The 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup may be already underway but for the U.S. U-20’s its goal of winning a title starts on Friday.
Tab Ramos and his bunch kick off group stage play against Ukraine, aiming for a positive start to a deep run in the competition. It’s a favorable group for the U.S., who will also take on Qatar and Nigeria in the upcoming week.
For the Americans to come home with a trophy, they will need to be just as dynamic and dangerous as in last winter’s Concacaf U-20 Championship. Experienced players like Timothy Weah, Alex Mendez, and Mark McKenzie will be scattered across Ramos’ starting XI and will be the leaders of the team throughout this competition.
Several other players are familiar with Ramos’ formation and ideas and will hopefully chip in with contributions. The U.S. has the talent to make a good run at the Under-20 World Cup, but will need several top performances to go far.
Here’s a closer look at five players who need a strong tournament for the U.S. U-20’s:
1.) Alex Mendez
There may be older players on this roster, but none will be more crucial to the team’s midfield than Alex Mendez. Mendez is coming into the tournament off the back of some goal-scoring performances with Freiburg’s U-19 side and a strong showing last winter in the Concacaf U-20 Championship.
Mendez has eight goals in six appearances with the U-20’s and has the ability to take a game over. A lot of the midfield play will run through Mendez, as he has the ability to score himself or set up his teammates. Paxton Pomykal’s grittiness and aggressiveness should open things for Mendez who needs a strong tournament for the offense to flow.
2.) Timothy Weah
The biggest name included in Tab Ramos’ roster, Timothy Weah will headline the offensive front. After a positive loan with Scottish outfit Celtic, Weah comes into the fold to be the experienced forward for the U.S. After eight caps with the senior team, Weah is trying to refine his game on the international level and most important gain experience.
His pace should cause problems for opposing backlines while his versatility can see him play up top or out wide. The U.S. have plenty of speedy options to pair with Weah, but there is zero reason for him not to succeed with this bunch. Expect Weah to finish the tournament near the top of the goalscoring chart.
3.) Paxton Pomykal
Paxton Pomykal was in the middle of a breakout MLS season before an hamstring injury with FC Dallas sidelined the midfielder. After a few weeks of rest, Pomykal will bring something to both sides of the field for the U.S. His ability to create chances for his teammates is a plus, while he can also feature on the flanks if Ramos wants to go in that direction.
Defensively he’s improved as a player and that has been on display in several MLS matches this season. It will be intriguing to see where he actually lines up in the formation but his services will definitely be needed in the later stages of the World Cup.
4.) Chris Richards
Chris Richards is the likely candidate to pair with Mark McKenzie as the second centerback in the formation. The Bayern Munich product has seen valuable minutes with the U-19 team abroad and will now try to help his team keep the opponents off the scoreboard. His height and physicality will be huge, while he needs to continue making smart decisions with the ball in possession.
With McKenzie coming in off limited time with the Philadelphia Union, Richards may be asked to do a lot in the early stages. Against tougher competition things may be difficult for Richards, but he will need to stand his ground against some of the top attacking talent. He also provides an option on set pieces and corner kicks.
5.) Chris Durkin
Like Pomykal, Chris Durkin will be another defensive midfield option to help provide depth on the back end. The D.C. United midfielder has the ability to work box-to-box and cover ground, while also shutting down opposing midfielders.
If Ramos decides to push Pomykal, Mendez, and others further up in attack, then Durkin’s presence will grow. This will be a huge stepping stone for Durkin, who has yet to represent the U-20’s in a major competition. He’s continued to develop in MLS, but now he has to translate that talent over to the international stage. As the U.S. prepare to face tougher competition in the later stages of the tournament, Durkin’s durability could be tested to the fullest.